I still remember some events from my days in Scotland, although those memories fade with each passing year. But my time in Trenton Ontario provided some my fondest childhood memories. I lived there from eight years old until I was 12 when in the summer of 1969 my family moved to Texas. Considering my age, it is not surprising that those years stand out so vividly in my mind. I was discovering who I was and where I belonged in the world. When we moved, I missed Canada. I had left behind all that was familiar to me. Ontario and Texas were so different.
In contrast to Texas, Ontario summers were balmy, and winters were numbingly cold. In Canada we had all four seasons. In the autumn, leaves exploded with color in the fall, red and orange maple leaves as big as my hand, and poplar leaves the size of shovel heads. I remember each year waiting in eager anticipation of the first snowfall, anxious for the cold magical harbinger of Christmas.
In the winter we would skate on the playground at the elementary school. Doused with water and allowed to freeze in the frigid night air, the tarmac surface stayed iced over from December till the end of March. There we played hockey, with our second hand skates and sticks, wrapped up jackets and scarves and woolen caps, imagining ourselves to be our favorite players from The Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadians. There is something about living in the northern climate. Despite the cold temperatures, people find interesting ways to enjoy the outdoors.
As soon as the first hard freeze arrived, fisherman would begin to move their huts out onto the frozen water of the Bay of Quinte. They could be seen scattered 30 to 40 yards from shore, tiny dark cabins dotting the snow covered ice. Peering out from the back seat of my father’s Oldsmobile, my nose pressed to the cold window, tires rumbling on the metal grates as we crossed the Dundas St. Bridge, I wondered what it would be like to walk out onto the frozen ice and fish through a hole drilled to the water beneath. It was probably the contradictory nature the sport which fascinated me. Adults were always telling kids not to walk out onto the ice, but every year in January they were out there by the dozens. I never saw the inside of an ice-hut, never fished for bass or perch or trout beneath the frozen surface of the river Trent, but I’m sure if the opportunity had arisen, the possibility of the ice cracking, opening up below me and swallowing me forever would have scared me off.
The highest spot in town is Mt. Pelion. Not a true mountain, Pelion is more an anemic hill offering an overview of Trenton, the river and bay. Close by, to the west, is the golf course. In the winter, the greens and fairways lay covered in a deep blanket of snow. Undulating slopes offered a great place to go sledding, but only if we could talk my father into taking us. Across the river, it was too far for us to drag a sled on foot.
Closer to home there was another smaller hill to toboggan. Though not as spectacular as the golf course, in the winter months we looked for any change in elevation capable of propelling us. If we couldn’t find one, we’d build it. Snow, packed onto the front landing and steps, created a runway that sent us hurling across the yard and into the snow bank, piled high upon the curb.
The snow brought us work as well as pleasure and removing snow from the driveway after each snowfall was an occasional and unwelcome chore. After a heavy snow, the infamous plough drove down Byron St. and pushing the snow from the middle of the road, creating huge berms along the curb and across any driveways along the route. My older brother Alex was often charged with shovel duty, but we all took turns scooping up the freshly fallen snow and discarding it into the front yard. Clearing the drive we’d mine our way through the snow bank to the road. We had no garage to store the car, so on extremely cold nights my father would run an extension cord to the drive way. Attached to the engine block was a heater to keep the coolant and oil from freezing.
I enjoyed those winters in Ontario. Loading up the car for our trip to Texas, I had no idea it would be many years before I once again experienced the joy of building a snow man.